The Loh Down On Science

New findings about New Zealand's most famous extinct bird

The extinct moa bird ate . . . WHAT?!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:

Tell me moa!

Native to New Zealand, moas went extinct by 1400 A.D. due to hunting and habitat loss.  These ex-, ostrich-like birds were vegetarians.  But what exactly was on their menu?  

Enter Jamie Wood from the Landcare Research Institute in New Zealand.  He dug up several, well, once-smoking guns.  Fossilized feces!  Fifty-one of them in a single valley.   Inside?  He found pollen, actual plant tissue, and DNA.  Based on DNA analysis, they were . . . poo-duced by four different moa species. 

Wood identified dozens of plant species in the samples.  And even determined the staple foods of each population.  This revealed three groups:  A grassland grazer, a forest feaster, and two that nibbled in the transition in-between.  Then, mapping who ate what where, he could: 

See how much the species interacted.

Get a snapshot of the area’s general ecology at the time.

And infer how it’s changed. 

His method makes studying ancient ecosystems less of a, well, crapshoot. And more of a CSI: Number Two.  Sorry.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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